Arnold Dolmetsch with his family
Reproduced by kind permission of the University of Melbourne, [Percy] Grainger Museum. For full details see here.
I mentioned in my last post that Mary Potts is remembered only in her obituaries, the most complete of which was published in The Bulletin, the house journal of the Dolmetsch Foundation, which did not gain wide circulation.
Arnold Dolmetsch taught Mary the harpsichord from 1927, while she was still at the Royal College of Music. And Mary kept in touch with Arnold until at least 1938, when she wrote him a note – in perfect French – regretting that he had had to cancel a lesson with her due to illness.
I think that most people in the UK are familiar with the name Dolmetsch, if only as the name stamped on the plastic recorders we all squawked through at primary school. But how famous is Arnold Dolmetsch today, and to what extent is his contribution to the development of early music appreciated by the average concert-goer?
Arnold Dolmetsch brought much music and many instruments back from the dead, including the recorder – see article – and used both originals and copies he made himself in concerts in which he and his family usually dressed up in the costume of the period from which the music came.
Dolmetsch often gave concerts and instrument demonstrations when he lived in London, and was a part-time violin teacher at Dulwich College. His friends and admirers, at that time, included such famous names as William Morris, Selwyn Image, Roger Fry, Gabriele d’Annunzio, George Bernard Shaw, Ezra Pound, to whom he sold a clavichord, and George Moore, whose novel Evelyn Innes celebrates Dolmetsch’s life and work.
What he did was not always to everyone’s taste, and he was regularly slammed by the critics. In one review, the performance of a piece for two viols was described as sounding like “toothache calling unto toothache”.
Despite this, he continued to have a strong following, established the Haslemere Festival in 1925, started an instrument-making dynasty, and ended up with a state pension for his services to music. Although there’s now a substantial website, Personal Recollections of Arnold Dolmetsch, by his third wife, Mabel Dolmetsch, wasn’t published till 1958 and Margaret Campbell’s comprehensive biography, Dolmetsch: the Man and his Work, didn’t appear until 35 years after his death.
Here (press the play button after “Plage 12 : duree= 00:03:13”)
you can hear Arnold, obviously recorded in just one take, playing a Bach Prelude & Fugue on his own clavichord – with quite some force – back in 1930 (complete with chips frying in the background).
I have spoken to one person who, as a small boy, was taken to Arnold’s 80th birthday party, but I wonder if there are any other people who remember meeting him, or seeing him at concerts or elsewhere. He didn’t die till 1940, so it could just be possible, couldn’t it?
If you were there, then, or have any Dolmetsch memorabilia, please do get in touch!
Here’s the only known film of Arnold – with the beard – and his family. The young man playing the spinet is Rudolph Dolmetsch, who also gave Mary lessons, and was killed at sea in 1942. Mary remained close with Millicent, Rudolph’s widow (1906-1988), who played the viola da gamba. Apparently, they transcribed much unknown repertoire from the British Museum and other libraries, and gave many concerts together.
The dancing lady in the film is Mabel, Arnold’s third wife. She survived him by 23 years and was still living at Haslemere when Layton Ring came there as an apprentice in the 1950s.
Full details of this film here.